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Carla Hayden Becomes First Woman and First African American Librarian of Congress

Carla Hayden, the former head of Baltimore’s public library system, was sworn in Wednesday as the 14th librarian of Congress, making history as the first African American and the first woman to ever hold this position.

President Barack Obama nominated Hayden for the job in February, noting Hayden’s efforts to modernize the aging system and make the Baltimore public library more accessible. She received support from both conservatives and progressives at her testimony before the Senate Committee on Rules and Administration in April, after which her nomination was put before the Senate with a recommendation of approval.

Her path to the Library of Congress was moving smoothly until July, when a hold was placed on her nomination. Some conservatives argued that the next librarian of Congress should be a “prestigious scholar,” rather than a professional library administrator like Hayden. Heritage Foundation scholar Hans von Spakovsky suggested that Obama selected Hayden because she was a black woman, insisting that she was unqualified for the job as she was “neither a scholar nor a historian,” and thus was not the so-called “man of letters” necessary to run an institution such as the Library of Congress.

But Hayden has also publicly taken a strong stance against the USA Patriot Act, which overrode a number of states’ privacy laws and allowed the FBI to, among other things, have access to American’s library records. “What someone reads doesn’t necessarily say anything about what they might do – there’s no link between interest and intent,” said Hayden in a 2003 interview with Ms. Magazine. “Librarians are charged with a public trust. We are there to help (people) access information; we are not in the business of judgement.”

Hayden’s list of accomplishments is great, ranging from serving as the president of the American Library Association to being named a 2003 Woman of the Year by our very own Ms. Magazine. Her background in implementing library technology in Baltimore has the potential to make the “library of America” a resource for all Americans, as many of the library’s resources can currently only be accessed in person.

Sources:

The Baltimore Sun 2/24/16; R Street 7/7/2016; Library Journal 7/13/2016; The New York Times 9/14/2016; Open Society Institute – Baltimore; Ms. Magazine Winter 2003

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